“Don Quixote” and the Dangers of Idleness

Don Quixote, the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes, begins with a preface addressing the “idle reader.” I think it’s a subtle way of Cervantes tipping us off to the theme of his masterpiece.

A person who has time to read has time to be idle, and no one exemplifies this more than the Man from La Mancha himself. Old Don Quixote spends his time reading “books of chivalry,” that is, legends about famous knights like King Arthur. The fantasy eventually goes to his head and he embarks on a quest for adventures in the vein of mythic warriors in the books he read. Faithfully beside him is Sancho Panza, a down-to-earth squire who comes along merely for the sake of gaining wealth. Their journey takes many humorous twists and turns and includes many side stories from characters they meet along the way. And it all seems to point out the dangers of idleness.

Don Quixote is downright delusional. Every failure on his part he attributes to some jealous wizard bewitching him or his efforts, such as when he attacks a herd of sheep thinking them to be an army, he blames said wizard for protecting them by turning them into sheep! He sticks his nose into affairs best left untouched and misreads almost every situation into something parallel from his books. He meets women and assumes they have amorous intents regarding him. Everyone else who meets him (aside from Sancho) considers him crazy. As funny as his crusades are, I think Cervantes is hoping we see the sad reality of Don Quixote’s state.

Buffering his point more, Cervantes throws in many side stories that other passing characters tell. Almost all of them involve an idle man getting into trouble because of the time he spends pursuing a very beautiful woman or some fantastical scenerio in which a man gains a very beautiful woman. Idleness seems to be the drumbeat that calls these men into absurd action.

All this points out that idleness, taken in excess, can lead down an unfruitful and unsavory path. Spend too much time in idleness, Cervantes warns, and the fantasy goes to your head.

I’ve seen this work out in my own life. When I was in elementary school, the Pokemon wave swept me away. I played the games and watched the TV show, eventually acting like the characters on the show. Today, you have no idea how much it pains me to admit that. In my extreme idleness, I fantasized about Pokemon and tried living it out. It’s an embarrassing blight on my childhood.

That’s not to say that all times of entertainment are bad. But like most things in life, it becomes dangerous when taken in excess . I would encourage you to take the fictional journey to Spain and ride alongside the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, laughing at his escapades while also remembering the dangerous slope he slid down to get there.

[P.S.- Don’t forget to check out my new story “The Last Gunfighter Out of Dodge” and vote for it on Frontier Tales!]

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